TOEFL test-takers now receive much more detailed score reports than before. In addition to their scaled reading and listening scores, they’ll see that they are either “developing” or “demonstrating” in several categories of questions. They’ll get the same sort of feedback for “delivery,” “language use” and “topic development” for each of the four speaking tasks and for “grammar,” “usage,” “mechanics” and “organization and development” for the two writing tasks.

This data will be provided for tests taken moving forward (and retroactively for tests taken after October 28). I’ll see if I can get some screenshots in the next day or two.

Note that all of this is provided via the test-taker’s account on the ETS website. The PDF score report remains unchanged.

I’ve been advocating for this sort of change since the last time the score reports were changed (back in 2019), so I’m happy today. Actually, I wrote a few days ago about my displeasure with the movement toward test scores that are somewhat opaque. I think it is wonderful that TOEFL test-takers will now have a better idea of where their scores have come from and how the various items on the test have impacted their final results.

It appears that the cost of taking the TOEFL iBT Test increased in a bunch of countries this week. This is the third round of price hikes for the test in 2023. Interestingly, the price in Philippines was reduced by $50 (following a huge hike of $75 in July of this year).

Among the basket of countries I track, I spotted increases in:

  • Benin (up $5 to $210)*
  • Congo, DR (up $10 to $205)
  • France (up $5 to $270)
  • Georgia (up $25 to $235)*
  • Guatemala (up $10 to $235)*
  • Hong Kong (up $5 to $300)*
  • Indonesia (up $5 to $210)
  • Iraq (up $25 to $280)*
  • Jordan (up $20 to $250)**
  • Mexico (up $25 to $250)*
  • Morocco (up $20 to $270)
  • Paraguay (up $10 to $260)*
  • Peru (up $5 to $245)*
  • Russia (up $20 to $290)
  • Saudi Arabia (up $30 to $350)*
  • Sri Lanka (up $5 to $190)
  • Sweden (up $10 to $320)*
  • Uganda (up $25 to $325)*
  • UAE (up $25 to $325)**
  • United Kingdom (up $5 to $250)

* = second increase of 2023

** = third increase of 2023

When I have a moment, I will update the big chart of all the countries I track.  Come back for that later, if you are interested.

I took the new Versant by Pearson English Certificate test last week.  In a few days I’ll write about what I liked and didn’t like but right now I want to highlight a feature that I liked a lot and I think other test makers should consider.

I really like that to complete a practice test, the test-taker must download Pearson’s secure browser and go through all of the same setup and security setup (except for providing ID, of course) as they do when taking the real test.  Anything anomalous in the test-taker’s setup is highlighted and they are prompted to correct it.

In my case, the browser pointed out that I had multiple webcams running on my system.  That message left me puzzled, but after 30 minutes of troubleshooting I was able to figure out that ages ago my screencasting software had silently installed a “virtual webcam.”  Fifteen minutes more and I was able to find the batch file deep in the program’s plugin folder necessary to uninstall it. When I took the test the following day everything went smoothly.

A fairly obscure problem like this can be tough to handle on test day – it’s the sort of thing a proctor might not be able to figure out, and a test-taker might not be granted 45 minutes to solve it on their own if their test is scheduled for a specific time. In the worst possible case, it could result in a test termination without a refund. I’ve certainly gotten reports of hundreds of mysterious terminations over the past three years (on various tests).

My potential problem is just one example of how requiring test-takers to go through a nearly complete setup process during the preparation stage might be a good idea. Basically, I want testing firms to do everything humanly possible to reduce the number of terminated tests and the number of rescinded test scores.

Is the implementation perfect?  Well, no. Some might find it frustrating to download some software and click through a bunch of setup stuff when they just want to practice for the frigging test.  I get that. As a concession to this (I suppose), while all of the warnings are displayed in the practice test, the user is totally free to ignore them and simply proceed with the test. This could blunt the effectiveness of the whole rigmarole.

Also: it is really nice to have a practice test that accurately simulates the look-and-feel of the real test. Like… it is 100% the same software, as far as I can tell. The buttons are all the same, the clocks are the same. The flow is the same. I’ve written some very kind words about the new TOEFL Go App from ETS. As a TOEFL prep guy, that app is like a dream come true.  It brought a tear (of happiness) to my eye.  That said, whenever I recommend it I’m forced to remind my students that the timers and clocks in the app are not like on the real test.  Then I need to spend 15 minutes explaining how the real timers work.  When students ask me why ETS didn’t include accurate timers in the app I glower at them until they leave the room.

Confirmation here that the Australian government “considered [the revised TOEFL iBT Test] to be a whole new test.” Hence the temporary suspension of its acceptance for visa purposes. I guess we all knew that, but it is mildly interesting. I imagine acceptance will resume once the ongoing REOI is finished. Lucky for ETS that their planned revisions coincided with the review of tests, making the disruption quite short.

I saw that holders of an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) can get a 5% discount when registering for the TOEFL. That’s really wonderful. A very long time ago I used my ISIC card to get deals all around the world. Mrs. Goodine even got an ISIC card when she went to grad school a few years ago. It warms my heart to know that people might use the same card to save on their language tests. Card holders can fill out a form on the ISIC website to get a voucher code to be used during the registration process.

Note that the offer is only available in “select” countries. I don’t know what those are, but LinkedIn says that the deal is available in 45+ countries in the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East, Africa).

Your three official TOEFL books have had their release dates adjusted (and harmonized). All three now have release dates of January 12, per Amazon. Cover images are available now too. However, Amazon might not be the most reliable source of this information, of course. Does anyone from ETS want to confirm that January 12 is the actual release date?

Curiously, the listed page count for each is longer than the current editions. That’s weird, since the test is shorter than before and the number of included tests remains the same as before.

Meanwhile, Princeton Review has a book scheduled for February.  Barron’s has a book scheduled for April.

Today, ETS raised the cost of sending additional TOEFL score reports to institutions. As always, test-takers may send score reports to four institutions for free (as long as they are selected before test day). Beyond that, test-takers must now pay $25 per score report. That is an increase of $5.

In comparison, Duolingo and PTE-Academic test-takers can send unlimited score reports, all free of charge.

The cost of sending GRE score reports was also increased by $5, I believe.

I saw that longtime ETS employees Ida Lawrence (Senior Vice President, Research and Development) and Sheree Johnson-Gregory (General Counsel and formerly also Chief Diversity Officer) are no longer listed on the leadership section of the ETS website. LinkedIn indicates that Lawrence has retired after 38 years with the testing organization. Johnson-Gregory does not seem to have a LinkedIn presence (good choice), but her bio indicates that she joined ETS in 1985. Replacements are not currently listed on the leadership page.

Earlier this year Michael Nettles left ETS. He was a senior vice president and the Edmund W. Gordon chair of policy evaluation and research. I don’t think I mentioned it here, but his name was removed from the leadership page in the spring. He also had a very long career at ETS.  No replacement is currently listed.

Also departing earlier this year was Kim Tilton, Vice President and Corporate Secretary, who started at ETS in 1980.  No replacement is listed.

Sara Lester, formerly listed as Vice President, Human Resources & Learning, also left in the spring.  No replacement is currently listed.  

I wrote about the TOEIC test in passing and mentioned that it is possibly the most popular English test in the world.  Someone asked exactly how popular it is.  ETS doesn’t list that number, but in 2022 about 3.2 million TOEIC test-takers completed ETS’s Background Questionnaire for the TOEIC reading and listening test. I don’t know if that number includes repeaters, but we can assume the test was taken at least that many times.  Note that that does not include people who took the separate speaking and writing TOEIC test, which I don’t have figures for.

You can compare that figure to the rest ‘o the tests:

  1. About 1.9 IELTS administrations through IDP for the year ending June 2023.
  2. About 1.6 million IELTS administrations through British Council for the year ending March 2022 (a figure that will be much lower in 2023 given that BC has pulled out of India).
  3. About a million TOEFL administrations circa 2022 (according to Amit Sevak, speaking on PIE Live).
  4. About 700,000 Duolingo administrations for the year ending Q2 2023 (my guess based on the company’s financial reports).
  5. About 827,000 PTE administrations in 2022 (2023 will be much larger).

What makes the TOEIC volume particularly impressive is that it is mostly taken in Korea and Japan.  Indeed, the TOEIC was specifically created for the Japanese market back in the 1970s.

For fun, I’ve included some snapshots from my local bookstore’s English test section.  You can see that the TOEIC section is twice as big as the TOEFL section.  I’ve also included a snapshot of the IELTS section, which is somewhat small.  Not pictured are the OPIc and TEPS sections which are about as large as the IELTS section.  I’m in a somewhat working class (and old) section of Seoul, so don’t take this as an indication of what the most popular bookstores offer.

Also: on my way into the bookstore I spotted a woman on the escalator reading a copy of a TOEFL speaking book. No kidding.

I learned that unemployed young people in Gyeonggi can get part of their TOEFL or TOEIC registration fees reimbursed through the end of November. This program, which also includes other sorts of tests, is available in 30 cities and counties across the province. It’s a partnership between the provincial government and each local government, so the specific details and amounts available differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  Details here.

Note that Seongnam has a separate program, which it administers alone.  

As usual, I read a bunch of stuff this week.  I’ll get right to it.

First up, I checked out the January 2023 issue of “History Today.”  A few articles seem relevant to TOEFL test-takers.

  • Hawk this Way describes the street sellers that hawked their wares on the streets of London around 1900.  Apparently there were more than 12,000 hawkers at that time in London alone.  Some great vocabulary in here with bits like: “though they traded without formal sanction and frequently fell foul of the law…”.  The article paints a really vibrant picture of an aspect of the city that disappeared around the time of the first world war.  Plenty of historical background is presented.  This article is somewhat similar in length and reading level as a real TOEFL reading passage.
  • The Madman of the North is a fun article about Charles XII of Sweden and his thirst for war.  Today one doesn’t often think of Sweden when thinking of European military history, but apparently people in the early 1700s sure did.
  • The Cold, Cold War is about rival nations trying to be the first to reach the Arctic.  It touches on the life of explorer Robert L. Peary who appears in a TOEFL integrated writing question I’ve checked hundreds of times.  I can’t remember if it is from an ETS source of a third party source, but it questions whether or not he actually reached the pole.  The best part of this article is its depiction of the schemes of Arctic explorer Henry W. Howgate.
  • Decline and Fall is about concerns throughout history regarding decadence.   I’ve already added “the decadent movement” to my list of TOEFL speaking questions in the works.

Next, I checked out the February 2023 issue of the same magazine.  Here’s what I liked:

  • Vile Verse and Desperate Doggerel is about poet William McGonagall.  Was he the worst poet in history?  Was he a visionary?  You decide.  The article brings to mind an old TOEFl speaking question from ETS about “Outsider Art.”
  • The Land Between Rivers is about efforts to establish a steamship service down the Euphrates River in the 19th century.  It’s a long article.
  • The ‘Lost’ Emperor is about a mystery!  A pair of old coins were found that might depict a previously unknown Roman Emperor.   But maybe they don’t.  These coins have been studied.  People have opinions.  There are disagreements.  This would make a perfect Integrated Writing question!

I think I’ve got one more copy of “History Today” on my shelf.  I’ll probably write about it next month.

Meanwhile, I read the July/August 2023 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact.  I read every issue of this magazine, but I rarely mention it here because the stories and articles aren’t really available online.  I know it is a bit cliche, but I think the world would be a better place if more people read science fiction now and then.  There are bigger things to think about than the allegiances that divide us.  This month I really enjoyed David Ebenbach‘s “Everybody Needs a Conditions Box” which features the establishment of a colony floating above the surface of Venus.  That’s a topic that has appeared in TOEFL integrated writing questions (and I think I’ve mentioned other stories from the magazine that explore the concept).  This particular story also explores AI in a fun way.  Read it if you can find it.

I also read the October 2023 issue of Apollo.  I suppose it is important to read about art and architecture now and then, as those topics do show up on the TOEFL (and they are often ignored when people seek out “academic reading” material).  A few articles stood out this month:

Finally, I recently discovered a wonderful podcast called The Academic Minute.  This series features very short lectures on various topics by leading academics.  Each episode includes a short introduction and a transcript.  This is perfect practice for the TOEFL speaking section.  I feel like I am the last person to learn about this wonderful resource.  I think I will mine the podcast for topics I can use when writing practice questions.

“Language Testing” published a really wonderful article last week about a study of the impact that audio-visual modes of presentation have on rater scores of speaking samples.  In this study, raters were given speaking samples with and without video. According to the article, “raters were significantly more likely to score comprehensibility higher when the presentation mode was audio-visual.” This was true in cases when the raters were familiar with the speaker’s accent and also when they were not.

There is, by the way, quite a bit of discussion in the article about accent familiarity, which is worth reading if you aren’t familiar with arguments about how that impacts raters.

The authors conclude that “the study provides evidence that Accent Familiarity and Presentation Mode interact to potentially impact Comprehensibility ratings. Presentation Mode, as a separate variable, independent of Familiarity, is a unique potential source of variation. The results indicate that the audio-visual Presentation Mode has a stronger effect than Accent Familiarity on Comprehensibility ratings. The results suggest that semi-direct tests with audio-only presentation and audio-visual presentation should be evaluated to ascertain how Accent Familiarity and Presentation Mode affect Comprehensibility ratings.”

You’ll need some kind of institutional access (or a full wallet) to read this one.

I read in a press release that ApplyBoard will partner with the British Council “to help bridge the gap between the testing and application phases of the international education experience.” It says that people taking the IELTS through the British Council “will receive personalised study-abroad matching through ApplyBoard.”

I don’t know exactly what that means, but it sounds fun. And is probably a great opportunity for ApplyBoard to further expand beyond its traditional niche of putting people in Canadian schools.

I like that the British Council is partnering with ApplyBoard, even though that firm is a direct competitor to their close pals at IDP Education.

I also appreciate that ApplyBoard is linking up with the IELTS, despite being owned, in part, by the folks behind the TOEFL.

Once, a very long time ago, I wrote a bunch of articles about the TOEFL for a partnership between Applyboard and that test. But the project was canceled and most of my articles are (presumably) still sitting in a virtual filing cabinet somewhere in southern Ontario. They were pretty good articles.